It’s A White-chinned Petrel, Not a Wild Goose

Todd McGrath screamed “Flesh-footed Shearwater…no it’s better…. get on this bird”. Pandemonium ensued. If I remember correctly, a Skua had caused this commotion by flying in among a group of four or five seabirds. One of these seabirds was bigger than the others and very dark. Moments later Steve Howell yelled, “It’s a Procellaria”.  What…in the Northern Hemisphere? I broke into a cold sweat.  A cascade of thoughts raced through my mind, but I remember repeating to myself “Keep on the bird…. don’t loose it…stay focused…OMG… this is unbelievable.”

It was just past 9:35 AM.  We were slowly motoring along the west edge of the Cordell Bank.  For the last ½ hour we had been surrounded by a lot of feeding seabirds and marine mammals.  Even the gulls had turned their noses up at our offering of popcorn chum. Apparently there was too much seafood around for them to dine on.

The dark bird was now up and flying, Steve proclaimed “It’s a White-chinned Petrel” and then the bird peeled off to the right and began flying away from us.  I yelled stay on the bird, but Todd didn’t need my encouragement.  He remained rock steady on the boat deck, never waivered and never lost sight of the petrel as it flew ahead and to the right.  Ken Petersen and our captain, Vince, were immediately on the same wavelength, “let’s go after her”; music to my ears -the Miss Annie was a fast boat.  Vince pushed the throttle forward and we were off.  The chase was on.

Todd never lost sight of the bird and happily it landed on the water less than a half-mile ahead.  A minute later we had narrowed the distance from the bird so Vince eased off the throttle and we approached slowly. The petrel reciprocated by floating on the glass smooth water a hundred yards in front of the bow. Soon it was only 50 yards –then 35.  We continued to approach closer and closer to our prize. Vince wisely turned the motor off and we glided into position 30 feet from the petrel.

White-chinned Petrel with a Fulmar (Photo by Tom Blackmon)

I remember the silence-broken only by the gentle lapping of the sea and the sound of the rapid shutter clicks from six cameras.  Ken, Steve and Todd were firing away as were Tom Blackmon and Glenn Tepke.  Today was Glenn’s birthday.  One hell of a present that’s for sure.

White-chinned Petrel (Photo b John Vanderpoel)

This continued for what seemed like ten minutes, perhaps it was only three or four. Eventually the bird lifted off and lazily flew a hundred yards behind it. We let it be.

White-chinned Petrel (Photo by John Vanderpoel)

It was a joyous moment indeed. You should have witnessed the broad smiles and high fives exchanged by everyone. White-chinned Petrel was an ABA lifer for everyone on board except for Todd.  Amazingly, Todd had discovered another White-chinned Petrel in early September off of Santa Barbara. Once accepted, this will be only the eighth record of White-chinned Petrel in the Northern Hemisphere (according to Steve) and only the third record for California.. Personally, this was a thrilling adventure and a fabulous bird to add to my year-list. For these pelagic aficionados, it must have been the equivalent of winning the lottery.

So now when the mastermind, Ken Petersen, whispers the password at some point in the future…no one will snicker…and if I ever receive an invitation, I’m all on board. For I now have little doubt that they will eventually find their Parkinson’s Petrel.

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14 Responses to It’s A White-chinned Petrel, Not a Wild Goose

  1. CONGRATS!!! What an awesome story. Keep ‘em coming… stories and new birds!

  2. Marilyn Rhodes says:

    What a fabulous find, John! I’m sitting here in my Evergreen, CO living room enjoying the excitement of the moment just by reading your post. Congratulations to all!!

  3. Mike Kilburn says:

    There’s your monster – Congratulations!

  4. Gary Matthews says:

    I think the Wild Goose was on the boat. Congrats.

  5. William Vanderpoel says:


    Check the name on the first photo -black-chinned

    Now, what is the plan for 732?

  6. Naeem Yusuff says:

    Congratulations- your pelagic jinx is officially over!

    Great Skua in MA is still a long shot – they are not quite regular. But now that you have the good juju our chances have just improved…

  7. David White says:

    Definitely beyond a graden-variety megararity! Congradulations!!!

  8. David White says:

    Thats garden-variety.

  9. John Vanderpoel says:

    Hi Naeem,

    The juju is definitely improving. I’m looking forward to the Hyannis trip in November.

  10. John Vanderpoel says:

    Thanks, Marilyn. Hope to keep that excitement building.

  11. Mark Gabriel says:

    I have been following you, John, almost since ” day one”, and I come here first every time I log in. This is a fabulous, juicy crazy adventure that only chasers/listers/big-whatever’s like me could appreciate. Fabulous!

  12. John Vanderpoel says:

    David, thanks so much for the words of encouragement.

  13. Doug Koch says:

    Congratulations John, what a great find!

  14. John Strathern says:

    Sophisticated comments…just saw “The Big Year”, now reading reviews of the movie and…related information. (you are related info) and I found your blog, read December 2010 and jumped to the current month. I’ll now read each month in order. Good luck!

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